1976 Swine Flu Scare Taught What Not to Do
Threat led to backlash against flu vaccine
By Sarah Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 27, 2009 9:36 AM CDT
A South Korea Livestock Health Control Association scientist gathers samples from imported Mexican pork at a store in Gwangju, South Korea.   (AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Jung-hoon)
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(Newser) – No matter how health officials handle the possible swine flu outbreak, it's likely to go better than it did in 1976. Back then, the government ordered a mass inoculation after one man in New Jersey died of the flu and others were sickened, the Los Angeles Times reports. Within 10 weeks, 40 million Americans were vaccinated—and 500 got Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological condition. "But the epidemic never really broke out," a California man remembers.

Vaccinations were halted, and Americans were left skeptical of the flu vaccine. "It was a great effort," says the ex-CDC director who was fired after the debacle. "It just had unexpected, unfortunate side effects." So what have we learned? It's important to be flexible and honest with the public. "I like the fact that they have said, 'We may change our minds,' " the CDC official says.